Under A Lot of Pressure

At work your boss is constantly riding you. At home, your spouse is constantly nagging you. Seems like everywhere you look, everyone is expecting too much from you.

It feels like you’re at the bottom of the pool and you’re about to drown.

You’re under a lot of pressure.

Truth be told, you wish it could be different, but it isn’t. You’re about to crack, and you need a way out before things start giving way.

It’s tough to do anything with all these obligations. Everyone you know has these expectations they put on you. Everyone you meet is silently judging how you’ve been slacking off lately, you can just feel it.

But what can you do?! You have to spend time with the family. You have to go to work! You have very real obligations to manage. Otherwise everything goes up in smoke without you.

But you’re finding it impossible to find some kind of work/life balance. Too much pressure from too many directions. The world is closing in on you, and nothing you’ve tried seems to make any difference.

What if you could find a way out? What would your life be like? What would it look like if you could magically get rid of the pressure everyone’s putting on you?

Here it is.

You want to do all that stuff you feel pressured to do.

That’s the short story. Here’s the long story.

Ever notice how often it’s the same government officials who are so hell-bent on “praying away the gay” and persecuting the LGBTQ community who are caught with their pants down in a gay scandal a couple years later?

What the hell is going on with that?

Well, he absolutely 100% denies that he has any homosexual urges. Not one. No sir, no how. Not now. Not ever.

But somebody around here wants some dude on dude loving, and that is absolutely repulsive. He can’t abide by that. How in the world would anybody want that? It’s unthinkable. It’s degrading. It’s the worst thing he could think of.

(And he thinks about it all the time.)

He simply refuses to even entertain the idea that he is the person who has these urges because it’s too upsetting. It’s not in alignment with his world view. It’s not who he’s told everyone else he is.

He is uncomfortable with his own natural, minor, unavoidable homosexual thoughts & desires, so he represses them. Like any temptation; the more vehemently it’s forbidden, the more enticing it becomes. It’s like the more you try to ignore it, the louder the siren sings.

Ignoring it doesn’t do any good. It doesn’t actually go away. Instead of recognizing his own desires, he perceives it as being out there. Soon he begins to feel a general feeling that “the gays” are out to get him.

What he’s really experiencing is his externalized self hatred as if it’s coming from anywhere other than where it actually lives; in him.

So what does all this have to do with the office? And your home life?

Everything, it turns out.

Any time you feel pressure from an external source to do something, you’re actually experiencing an internal desire to do that thing that you’ve lost touch with.

Remember this famous quote?

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

If you didn’t already feel inferior, their opinion of you wouldn’t matter.

If you truly didn’t want to do something, you wouldn’t feel the slightest pressure to do it. No matter how much the person asking you to do it wants you to do it, the amount of pressure you feel is only a measure of how much you want to do it.

It has zero correlation to the other person’s internal state. None. (You’re not a mind reader; there’s no way for you to know what they’re thinking, remember.)

It’s all you.

All that pressure at work? It’s your own desire to excel that you’re not in touch with. You might not admit it to yourself, (or anyone else) because you wouldn’t be able to guilt-trip people for all that work you do for so little thanks. You might be working to leverage all that hard work to a promotion, and you don’t want to appear too eager so you disassociate from your drive to win.

Maybe you just never fully realized what kind of incredible motivation you have to work hard.

Maybe you know how hard you have to work to keep the job, and you like the pay but can’t admit you’d stay in a situation like that for something as simple as the money.

Whatever the reason, the process stays the same: “I have to” is actually, “I want to.”

When you feel pressure to work hard, it’s simply because you want to work hard. When you feel pressure at home to do all these chores, it’s simply because you want to do all these chores.

So any time you feel pressure, ask yourself, “What about this situation is the thing I actually want?”

You’ll be amazed at the power you’ll find in admitting your desires. (Maybe not with others, to start, but certainly a good idea to try it with yourself.)

Instead of feeling like the world is out to get you, you’ll realize you’re angry with the world. Any of these experiences of pain from out there should be welcomed. Open your arms & your heart to these experiences because they are a beautiful gift of self discovery, growth, & opportunity for improvement.

Just like energy can neither be created nor destroyed; just translated, so too are your desires. Reclaim your energy by accepting all the parts of who you are, and suddenly the world is full of happiness & joy. (Not because anything out there changed, but you’ll now be seeing reflections of your own inner wholeness shining back at you everywhere you look instead of that part of yourself you couldn’t accept.)

Have other “out there” problems? Tell me about ‘em. I’d love to help you understand what the hell is going on, and help you reclaim all that energy you’re spending fighting what you can’t admit.

You’re a beautiful, multifaceted person who is a wealth of contradictions, logical & illogical desires, and that’s a wonderful thing to be.

Halloween All Year

The last weekend of October is one of my favorite times of year, and I got to spend it in Vegas where the costumes are especially extravagant.

But why is Halloween so much fun?

Power of Masks

Since prehistory, mankind has made use of masks in one form or another. It’s an external method of accessing a different internal state where the wearer gets to try on different personalities & behaviors.

The character of the mask suggests its own character that is then interpreted and expressed by the wearer. It’s pure make-believe at its finest.

But what if the effects aren’t imaginary?

Power of Costume

A couple years ago a pair of researchers (Hajo Adam & Adam Galinsky) looked into what kind of effects costumes have on a person’s thought processes. The results were surprising.

In the experiment, they had half the participants wear a white lab coat to “protect their clothes from dust” and the other half wore no lab coat.

All were tested for attention, ability to focus, performance of timed tasks, etc.

Those who were wearing the lab coat performed better than those who didn’t, even though the lab coat wasn’t characterized that way.

It suggests that the participants were bringing their own beliefs and associations about the piece of clothing, and it had a subconscious (but measurable) effect on their mental faculties.

This effect is called “enclothed cognition.” It’s the effect clothes and costumes have on our psychology based on wearing it, and also what you believe about those who wear those kinds of clothes.

Doctors are smart, and they wear white coats. I’m wearing a white coat, so I’m smart.

And then you are smarter.

Clothes Make The Man

You’re familiar with the saying, but may not fully recognize how deeply the effects can reach.

This is why Halloween is so much fun for people. Wearing a costume or mask allows you to truly feel like you’re someone else. You get to access personality traits you don’t usually identify with, and nobody judges you because they’re all doing exactly the same thing.

It’s like a social purge of your current operating personality.

If you think about it, you should realize that what you think is your “true” identify is still just a creation that’s designed to get the reactions you want from other people.

If you’re not happy with who you “really are” maybe there’s an opportunity for you to try on a new costume for awhile. Before you know it, you’ll be that new person.

Then it’s Halloween all year round!

Birth of Superstition

Last night something amazing happened: the Chicago Cubs beat the curse of the Billy Goat.

They haven’t been to the World Series playoffs since 1945, and they haven’t won the World Series since 1908.

Last night that changed.

The Cubs beat the Dodgers to earn their spot in the World Series, and are looking to win the title. When they won, the whole city of Chicago erupted into celebration. You could hear the roar of (maybe) millions of people erupt all over town.

It was awesome.

Where was I?

For months I’d been looking forward to going to a live talk / Q&A / book signing event by Nick Offerman (of Parks & Rec fame). He wrote a book on woodworking, and is clearly in love with the “Making > Taking” philosophy.

During his hour of extemporaneous grab-assery I discovered he’s a die-hard Cubs fan. He set up a lectern to hold a laptop to stream the game while he talked. Anytime the Cubs scored, he’d announce it, and the audience would go wild.

I loved it. (I’m not a big fan of sports, but I do love shared experiences with hundreds of very enthusiastic fans.)

Something Peculiar

At the beginning of his talk, Nick took off his Cubs hat, put it on the shelf inside the lectern, looked at his watch, and then said, “7:23pm I put the hat on the shelf. That way, if the Cubs win tonight, I can do it again next year.”

And that got me thinking about the millions of people who have superstitious rituals.

You might have one, yourself.

Maybe you have lucky underwear. Maybe you have to blow on the dice before each throw at the craps table.

Whatever it is, it’s likely you have a peculiar belief that doing some action will have an influence on a situation you’re not directly able to influence.

Why is that?

Humans are fantastic at building associations. That’s how we learn; associating new information to stuff we already know. We associate outcomes with what we did before.

And this makes sense.

If we’re living in the wild, and you notice it usually gets cloudy before it rains, it makes sense to associate clouds and rain together. There’s a direct link between the two.

But we’re good at building associations even if the cause and effect aren’t so direct.

Ritual & Belief

There are two components to superstition. The ritual, and the belief surrounding what the ritual will do.

A ritual is a formalized pattern of behavior & actions that have symbolic merit. We have the ritual of marriage. The ritual of singing happy birthday.

Rituals help reinforce the feeling of belonging to a group or identity.

The belief about what the ritual does is when you start getting into superstitious territory.

When we perform some action, and it seems to lead to a particular outcome, we’ll tend to do that action again.

Cause & effect reinforcement.

Through our wiring to find causes for what’s happening in the world, our minds will latch onto any explanation, even if it’s purely a magical (aka: not real) association.

This is the heart of omens, superstitions, and peculiar behaviors that might look like nonsense to someone on the outside.

Control

Logically we might realize where we put our hat at 7:23 has no real bearing on the outcome of the game (the players don’t know you did it, and they’re the ones who have a direct effect on how the game plays out).

So what’s going on?

Turns out the major player in all superstitions is uncertainty.

The more uncertain a situation, the more we look for ways to control it.

This is why sports are a prime breeding ground for superstitions. Nothing is more uncertain than sports.

Anything could happen!

Ancient Roots

Sports superstitions are actually a modern form of an ancient experience.

It’s thought that the cave paintings of animals aren’t solely an artistic expression. They’re actually a magical ritual.

A hunt certainly qualifies as uncertain, which increases the likelihood of magical thinking. It’s an effort to control the outcome, even if there’s no direct interaction.

By manipulating the symbols of the animals, the shamans who drew them were drawing into existence the outcome they wanted.

Takeaway

So the next time you find yourself in the grips of some superstition, know you’re a part of a centuries-old tradition of magical thinking.

(But if it involves never washing your lucky underwear, you might want to reconsider a new ritual.)

Backfire Effect

“Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

In an ideal world, when you’re presented with contradicting evidence to your current way of thinking, you’d correct your beliefs and then move forward with a better understanding of the world.

Unfortunately we don’t live in that world.

The Backfire Effect

There’s a particularly nasty cognitive bias called the Backfire Effect that says once a belief is integrated into your way of thinking, you will protect that belief more strongly when you feel it is under attack.

What that means for you is, every time you try to win an argument with logic, you’re actually making the other person believe even more strongly. (Ever tried explaining why a conspiracy theory believer is wrong? You know exactly what I’m talking about.)

This was clearly shown in an experiment run in 2006 by Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler. They would show people articles they fabricated that seemed to support something that was demonstrably untrue. Then, Nyhan & Reifler would show participants the facts. Surprisingly, participants would double down on their misconceptions.

The Backfire Effect is the other side of the coin from the confirmation bias. Confirmation bias filters information you look for while the Backfire Effect protects you from information that’s found you.

This is exactly why no matter what kind of scandal is uncovered, candidates gain support.

All your hard work of persuading someone will backfire on you with equal & opposite force. It’s Newton’s Second Law of Internet Discussion Dynamics.

One Event, Two Outcomes

In high school & college I was a competitive debater. I wasn’t naturally well-spoken and quick on my feet. I think almost entirely in pictures, so it was difficult for me to translate those images into coherent ideas that are easy to understand in words.

With that background, I absolutely love watching live debates; especially debates that matter.

Recently the two main party nominees squared off for the first presidential debate of the 2016 circus election cycle. At the end of the debate, there was a clear winner.

Who was it?

Turns out, it was the person you believed would win it before it ever began.

Aftermath

Like most interesting quirks of the mind, how things play out after an event are often more interesting than the event, itself. Nowhere is this easier to see than the fallout from the debate.

If you’ve talked with more than 10 people about the debate, you should have seen first hand how two people can go through the same experience, and come out with completely different beliefs about what happened.

As soon as the nominees wrapped up, you knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Hillary won the debate. The guy sitting next to you at the bar felt exactly the same way. . . about Trump.

And it’s interesting to note; he has the exact same level of certainty about Trump’s “undeniable” win, as you do Hillary.

How in the world can that be?

A little hiccup in reasoning called “belief bias.”

Belief Bias

Belief bias is what happens when someone’s beliefs, personal values, prior knowledge/experience colors the reasoning process to be more accepting of invalid arguments or information.

Those beliefs act as a preventative filter for any kind of information that would disrupt the world view that’s working just fine, thank you. Why would I do anything different?

A completely rational person would be able to take in all points made, evaluate claims, and come to a conclusion based solely on that data.

But we’re not completely rational people. Our fuzzy logic & slippery pre-conscious brain processes get in the way.

We interpret experiences so they support what we believe already.

Show me one person who changed their mind after the debates. . .

Can’t do it?

You have the belief bias to thank!

(and be scared of.)